Category: indie beer

Repeat the PatternAnother week, another new release from Upright…

Repeat the Pattern

Another week, another new release from Upright Brewing. This time, they are back to form with a blended saison featuring lemongrass and black limes aged in gin and vermouth barrels. And it’s only six and a half percent alcohol. Ostinato is incredibly light but packed with flavor. The tangy scent of limes mingles with the sheepy smell of wild yeast. The citrus flavor is punctuated with light botanical flourishes. And the finish is dry and funky. It’s a rustic table beer, perfect for any meal. 

The Center Cannot Hold Last week, Old Town Brewing earned three…

The Center Cannot Hold 

Last week, Old Town Brewing earned three bronze medals at the Oregon Beer Awards, the annual celebration of our fair state’s best brews. Shanghai’d IPA came in third in the Classic UK Styles category. Add that to a GABF Gold Medal in 2015, and you’ve got a nicely outfitted “English-style” IPA. I figured I give this award winner another go around. It’s amber. It’s bitter. It’s sweet. 

Shanghai’d tastes less like London and more like Portland in 2010. The color is the first sign. These days, dark malt is rare, and sugary crystal is verboten. But here is an IPA with a reddish color which is actually a little sweet on the tongue. Old Town only lists 2-row malt and honey as ingredients, so maybe it’s all in my mind. The hops list is a trip down memory lane – Nugget, Liberty, Crystal, and the classic Cascade. The hops are used less for aroma than tongue coating bitterness. It’s bracing with hints at grapefruit and a long piney finish. Is this an IPA?

It’s mind boggling how far we’ve come in the ten years I’ve been drinking. This would not be out of place on any tap list when I was in school, but now, it tastes like an old relic. I’m amazed at how far our collective palates have shifted. We once revered beers with hundreds of IBUs. Now, we are adding vanilla and lactose to make milkshakes. And somehow, they both fall under the same three letter heading: IPA.

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: we need a new word. India Pale Ale can’t be all beers all the time.

Level 1-1Level Beer opened last summer in an old barn near the…

Level 1-1

Level Beer opened last summer in an old barn near the Portland airport. It’s a strange location, but a I’m sure welcome change from the usual industrial office parks. The brewery coats everything in retro video game visuals. At this point, Level doesn’t seem to have a particular beery niche in mind, but their tagline is “brewed with balance.”

Game On! their first bottled IPA is incredibly balanced, if a little dated. It’s a deep gold without a trace of haze. This is not one of those fruity IPAs. No Mosaic hops here. It’s actually bitter and a bit malty. The hops notes present as citrus, but not in your face with juice. If I had to guess, I’d say there are classic Cascade hops in there. The bitterness is bracing, but it’s balanced by a golden malt syrup sweetness. 

Let’s Play! is equally balanced. The dry-hopped Pilsner has a great fresh and floral scent.The body is snappy and fizzy. The malt is crisp and the finish has a great dried herbal flavor. Let’s Play! is not exactly a traditional pilsner, but it’s not completely out of a left field either. 

They also offer a canned Saison and the current seasonal is a chocolate Stout, which I cannot bring myself to buy. They bottled it in clear glass, and all my geek senses tell me that is a huge mistake. But these guys are veteran brewers, maybe they know something I don’t. They definitely know how to make beer.

Pseudo-Socialist Propaganda BeerRogue has never had a stellar…

Pseudo-Socialist Propaganda Beer

Rogue has never had a stellar reputation.

The beer is overpriced to make it look nicer, their pubs are terrible, and it seems to be a pretty shitty place to work.

The brewery was started in Ashland Oregon by a group of former Adidas and Nike executives. For them, the Rogue brand was always more important than the beer they made. It’s been years since I’ve given Rogue, one of Oregon’s oldest breweries, a second thought. But in the last year, the brewery seems to be quietly relaunching themselves. 

It started over the holidays when they sent us that bottle of Santa’s Private Reserve. I was expecting to hate it. I was expecting lackluster Red Ale wrapped in shiny paper. But it was actually, dare I say it, good. And then I noticed cans of Yellow Snow at the grocery store. I’d seen the sophomoric name before, but i remembered it being an IPA, but this is a Pilsner. A Pilsner with spruce tips. 

Again, I wasn’t expecting much, but the beer is good. It has that sweet, tangy, lemony flavor of spruce surrounded by a crispy yellow beer. Huh. Is Rogue getting better? The new beers are interesting, the branding is moving away from white dudes pumping their fists, and they even have a very respectable ranking on Glassdoor. I’m not ready to forgive all their old missteps – though those old Voodoo donut stouts are looking prescient now – but I may start following Rogue’s progress in the future.

“Does this taste like soap?” The human mind is very open to…

“Does this taste like soap?” 

The human mind is very open to suggestion and illusion. Sarah mentions a soapy note, and it’s all I can taste. What was once a thin head of loose bubbles becomes a bubble bath. That classic Upright flavor smell, apricots and slowly fermenting beer, is suddenly infused with a note of dish detergent. The Body is suddenly slick and oily on the tongue. It’s terrible.

But she was right. It does taste soapy. I was excited to try Upright’s latest Frequencies release, Jacaranda. It was brewed with a couple guys from Superflux in Vancouver B.C. It’s supposed to be brewed with oily hops, blended with Upright’s Shades Kriek and left in Vermouth and Gewurztraminer casks with some wild yeast for months. Sounds great, but I wasn’t able to finish it. My stomach hurt. 

Bend Does BelgianI was at old Saraveza for the first time in…

Bend Does Belgian

I was at old Saraveza for the first time in ages, checking out the bottle selections while Sarah picked up tacos down the street, when the name Monkless Belgian Ales caught my eye. I hadn’t heard of them, but the cans looked nice, and I have a well documented love of Belgian beer. So I grabbed a few, for some laughs at the very least.

First up was Capitulation, a dry hopped Tripel, which the copy claims is what you come up with when everyone comes in looking for IPAs. It does resemble a dry, pale west coast IPA – sprucey, sort of dank. But where you’d expect citrus, you get dried apricot. Where you expect a clean yeast flavor you get a bit of spice. Not exactly to style, but quite tasty. 

Second was an Imperial Peppercorn Wit, which I assumed would taste like a pile of garbage. It’s rare a Witbier really appeals to me. Too much pepper, too many cloves, oily citrus flavor – imperialized it must be even worse. But it was sitting right next to the Tripel, so I threw it in the basket. I’m glad I did. Those not-monks really nailed it. As you’d expect, an Imperial Peppercorn Wit smells strongly of pepper upfront. But it’s followed by sweet citrus. And on the tongue it’s soft, with a slick of oily tangerine peel in the middle. But the finish is dry with cracked white pepper rounding everything nicely. 

I was expecting a couple laughs, maybe some passable pints, but Monkless really impressed. The brewery opened three years ago in Bend, Oregon. I’m adding it to the itinerary for our next visit.

Boogers and BeerI think I’m getting sick. Sarah says it’s…

Boogers and Beer

I think I’m getting sick. Sarah says it’s allergies, it’s been unseasonably warm and pollen filled flowers are convinced it’s Spring. But on the other hand, we have a preschooler; he’s getting into all sorts of germs. So as I sit here, the right side of my face is leaking snot and tears as my sinuses palpably swell.

Anywho. Beer. 

We recently split a bottle of Gigantic’s re-released End of Reason, which they refer to as a “Petite Quad.” At only 8.3% alcohol, it’s practically a session beer. It’s Belgian inspired, but mixes in a bit of the roasty toasty malty flavor you want in a wintery beer. Underneath all that is a nice dried fruit flavor, somewhere between a raisin and a prune. A hint of molasses rounds out the flavor before it dissolves into an admirably dry finish. 

Tasty, but better drink it before spring really arrives, daffodils might ruin the vibe.

A Pint of Mild and a Quart of HurtThere’s a brewery in Seattle…

A Pint of Mild and a Quart of Hurt

There’s a brewery in Seattle making super credible English style ales. Machine House Brewery specialize in cask conditioned ales, but they also bottle a Dark Mild and Best Bitter. When was the last time you saw a Bitter? But I cannot in good conscience recommend them. 

The beer is good. The Dark Mild has a nice dark roast malt flavor, with just a hint of charcoal smoke. It’s super light and refreshing on the tongue. The Best Bitter is, ironically, a little too Bitter for my taste. It’s got nice bones, but the hopping is just a little too strong and overpowers the rest of the beer. That could just be a bach issue though. Both beers are British enough, even down to the paltry alcohol by volume. It’s authentically weak, which is part of the problem.

A single 500mL bottle of 3.7% Mild costs $7.25 at my nearest bottle shop. That’s nuts. Despite rave reviews on Twitter and elsewhere, it took quite a bit of justification on my part in order to put the beer in my basket. You’re paying for quality; you’re supporting rare and important beer styles; alcohol isn’t everything. Yes. All true. But there is also the issue of dollars and cents.

I could just as easily buy two satisfying cans of Old Speckled Hen. It might not be as good, but I won’t nearly feel cheated as soon as I finish the last dregs. 

All that being said, you better believe I might seek out a cask of the stuff.

Gold StandardIs that mint? Sweet basil? Whatever it is, it fits…

Gold Standard

Is that mint? Sweet basil? Whatever it is, it fits in well with the wildflower honey flavor of the malt. Trappist monks at Westmalle invented Tripel in the 1930s and are still masters of the golden ale. It’s brewed with extra pale pilsner malt, syrupy candi sugar, and German or Czech hops – Saaz, Styrian Goldings, recipes vary. On paper it looks simple, boring even. But somehow they’re able to draw out incredibly deep malt flavor and an intense, floral hop aroma. Westmalle Tripel is proof you don’t need the newest hops or the most advanced technology to make incredible beer.

2018′s First FadBombers are terrible. Twenty-two ounce bottles…

2018′s First Fad

Bombers are terrible. Twenty-two ounce bottles were ubiquitous among craft brewers for years despite the facts: they’re ugly and they’re oddly sized (is it one serving or two?) 

So why were so many beers sold in bombers?

For one thing, they were uniform. You can shelve twenty-twos anywhere – corner stores, supermarkets, liquor stores. Twenty-twos fit right in with the malt liquors. 

Second, ten years ago, it was hard to sell a single twelve ounce bottle of beer. You could do it, but the mixed six-pack was still new. Bombers allowed prospective customers to gamble on a single bottle instead of a whole six-pack. 

And lastly, was the price. The cost per ounce of a single bomber is often significantly higher than the same beer in a six-pack. A five dollar bomber is equivalent to a sixteen dollar six pack. Sixteen bucks for a sixer isn’t unheard of in 2018, but try getting someone to pick one up at the 7-11. It’s not happening.

So we had bombers and we had six-packs and a few uppity breweries putting out fancy wine bottles. 

In about 2012 brewers finally embraced cans – which are easier to recycle, and lighter to ship. When sixteen ounce cans hit the scene, it was suddenly possible to buy a single pint of beer for a reasonable price. Sixteen ounces fits nicely in any glass without the need to refill. (Personally, I feel cheated by twelve ounce bottles.) 

But switching from bottling to canning is expensive. So what were the older breweries to do? The people demand smaller, cheaper sizes. 

Enter the five hundred milliliter bottle. Walking through the grocery store the other day there was a sudden gut of these perfectly pint sized bottles – just under seventeen ounces, svelte, and classy. Selling beer five ounces less at a time brings down the per bottle cost, making glass bottles competitive again.

I think we have to thank our friends in Hood River for the trend here in Oregon. Double Mountain started using reusable European bottles about four years ago, and across town, pFriem followed suit just a few years later. So far in 2018, I’ve seen Buoy, Laurelwood, Ex Novo, and Mazama using these new bottles. Gigantic and Fort George are using them for their more exclusive, barrel aged beers. Let’s hope the trend continues.

2018 is the year of smaller, better bottles.